Mystic Pass to Badger Pass Circuit – Day 5 of 6

August 12, 2022

This is Day 5 of 6 in the Ultimate Sawback Range Backpack in Banff National Park. To see the trip overview and daily breakdowns, click HERE.

This was our second big day of the backpack in terms of distance and elevation gain. We hiked from Block Lakes campground, over Badger Pass, and then down to the next valley to the west. After a long trudge, we finally made it to Luellen Lake campground. I think most people would prefer to spend the night at the Badger Pass Junction campground, but it was fully booked with people heading north into Skoki. This meant an extra 6 km to get to Luellen Lake, but the upside was the absolutely gorgeous lake and towering mountains.

After a long night with three rain storms, Erin and I woke up to wet tent flies. Our tents and gear stayed dry thankfully. We tried to dry the flies as much as possible, but with a really big day ahead of us, we had to pack up and get moving early. I kept my fly and ground sheet on the outside of my pack to prevent getting everything else wet.

My Big Anges Tigerwall Tent did a great job of keeping me and my gear dry. The fly has two side vestibules, so I tuck my backpack and boots under one side, and enter/exit on the other side.

Cascade River was quite swollen due to the rains, and that washed out the trail in a few places. This slowed us down a bit, but the upside was watching fresh water rush over lush green landscapes, which I absolutely love. If we didn’t have such a big day, I could have spent an hour watching the water flow.

The hike up to Badger Pass was insanely gorgeous, with many beautiful rock formations. Right below the pass I made a navigation error. When doing my planning, I was expecting a certain amount of elevation gain. Since I was short, I assumed we continued north to hit a very steep notch. Good thing I quickly realized my error, as that route leads to Bonnet Glacier.

Badger Pass was gorgeous! The rain had cleared out, and we had bluebird skies above. We ate lunch, and spread out our tents and other items to dry before the long trudge into camp. The views – stunning, and we had them all to ourselves. We finally saw people as we were descending off the pass. Indeed, it was strange to see so many people at Luellen Lake!

Day 5 Overview – Block Lakes Campground, Badger Pass, to Luellen Lake Campground

From Block Lakes campground, we hiked west along Cascade River, and turned north to start gaining elevation towards Badger Pass. At about 7.5 km, we crossed a creek and made a sharp left hand turn to ascend a short scree slope to hit the high point of Badger Pass. The valley widened out, and we hiked down through lush meadows, then entered the forest for the long descent. At Johnson Creek, we turned south and followed the trail to Luellen Lake campground.

Totals – Downloadable Tracks on Gaia, Displayed on Strava

Date: August 12, 2022
Group:  Two (Alisen and Erin)
Distance:  19.4 km (official distance is 18.3 km)
Elevation:  753 m (2,485′) Gain, 698 (2,303′) Loss
Time:  8 hours 30 minutes (includes breaks, tent drying time, and lunch)

It’s a long day from Block Lakes to Luellen Lake, but worth the effort to spend the maximum amount of time at Luellen Lake. The ascent up Badger Pass is steep, and as it was a smoking hot day, I really felt the heat.
It’s nice to have a good warm up section prior to taking on the major elevation gain.

Block Lakes Campground to Badger Pass

Erin and I got right on it this morning, packing up in record time. We hit the trail at 7:45 am, which was ideal for the 8.5 hour day ahead of us. Normally I would prefer to wait for the tent and fly to dry out, but we didn’t have time. We flapped them about to get rid of the majority of the rain drops. I kept my fly and ground sheet on the outside of my pack to keep everything else dry.

I was up early enough to catch the last of the alpine glow in the sky. The clouds of the last few days had cleared, and we were in for a beautiful day.

I was now getting really tired. I was suffering from hot flashes, which is awful during the day while hiking, but at night in a sleeping bag they pose a different problem. I wear just enough clothes to stay warm but not overheat in my bag. When a hot flash hits, the result is an instantaneous whole body sweat that quickly makes everything damp. When the hot flash ends, I am left freezing cold. It takes me a while to warm up again so I can fall asleep, only to have another hot flash hit. By the end of the night, I’ve maybe slept a couple of hours, none of it long enough to get some quality REM. After four nights of not sleeping, I do not have the mental reserves to power through a big day like I normally would.

The day must go on though! We hiked west out of camp, following the trail next to Cascade River. There are several braided trails through here, so the map and ancient sign were helpful.

Heading west to Badger Pass.
I love how different areas of the National Parks have their own flavour of signs. For example, Lake Louise has hand-carved wooded signs. I like to imagine that it was up to the individual Park Warden responsible for the area put up signs to help people along. I hope the Parks keeps these old signs, as it’s a part of our history.

We crossed the first creek, which was pretty easy. After a short but delightful hike through the moss-covered forest, we came to the washed out portion of the trail. Hopefully it’s not this bad every day, but I imagine Cascade River was unusually swollen after all the rain last night.

Creek crossing just past the campground. Despite the sunny day, we wore our rain pants because the bushes were soaking wet.
One final look at Block Mountain. The river is peeking through the trees below.
There is nothing finer than a moss-covered forest. It was delightfully cool and fresh, with sunlight dappling through the trees.

The hike along the Cascade River is about 3.7 km, but it took us longer to traverse due to the washed out trail. We could pick our way along fairly well, but did have to think about several water crossings. Despite the time, I really enjoyed this section. There is just something special about fresh rushing water, especially on a hot day. It’s pretty rare in Alberta, so I enjoyed it immensely.

The water is rushing just about everywhere it can find a channel. The trail was washed out in several places. We could parallel sometimes, other times we bushwhacked a bit to avoid.
So beautiful! British Columbia has rushing water just about everywhere, but it’s rare in Alberta. I’ll take this view anyday!
Once past the worst of the flooding, we were again on solid ground, and found several old bridges.

After about 3.7 km, we left the Cascade River and turned north to start gaining elevation in earnest towards Badger Pass. We were between two magnificent mountains, neither are named on my map. The right is the southern most flank of Bonnet Peak, while the left is still the sprawling mass that connects Block Mountain and Noetic Peak. In general, it’s all part of the Sawback Range.

Heading uphill now towards Badger Pass. This smooth rock is an ancient reminder of the glacial melt and the powerful waterfall that would have worn down this path.

Shortly, the views opened up and revealed one amazing vista after another. We stopped for so many photos, but I’m only including an overview here. You’ll just have to visit yourself to see all the glory this pass has to offer.

The trail winds through a mixture of forest and meadow. Everything is a rich green after the much needed rain, and the sky was an impossible blue. Such a nice change after the moody skies of the previous days.
The rocky terrain keeps the hiking fun and interesting, despite it getting pretty steep. It’s about 10:30 am, and already getting very hot.
Crested a bit of a high point. Lots of marmots in the meadow, especially around the rocks on the left, but they were pretty good at disappearing when the camera came out.
Looking back at the route from Block Lakes. It would be pretty gorgeous heading down this way too. No right or wrong way to do this loop.
Once we left the meadow, we crested another high point. This is where I had a navigation error. When I did the route planning, it showed we needed another couple hundred meters of elevation gain at this point. The only place I could see to get that much elevation was the route up to the notch directly ahead. This reminded me so much of the The Notch on the Skyline Trail, that I set my sights on it.
Compounding the problem was this section. The trail loses elevation and drops down to the creek. Then the trail peters out. Looking around, the only trail I could see was straight ahead, going back up the side of the shale on the same side. I headed for that trail. Not good.

What did I miss??? On the opposite side of the creek bed, there is a sign that is almost knocked over, facing away from us. We both walked right past it. Funnily enough, the trail up that side was also obscured from this direction. A quick check of my map would have corrected the problem. While we did put on an extra 500 m or so, it wasn’t the end of the world. What clued me in was how the trail completely disappeared once we got to the top of the plateau. It should have been a bigger trail.

After hiking back up to the top of the plateau above the creek, I turned around and saw the extremely obvious trail up to Badger Pass. From below, we could not see this trail. I even have a photo of that spot from the trail, and nope. No trail visible. Oh well – this is a great shot, and my mistake is your gain. Turn left at the creek! 🙂
Badger Pass! Woot! Woot! All thoughts of being hot and tired quickly fled as I gained the pass. SO amazingly happy to be up here. What a day!!!
Looking back down from Badger Pass to the trail below. From here, we can see the trail dipping down to the creek. It’s probably a good 20 to 50 m before crossing the creek to gain the trail up to the pass. While this looks like a really big ascent – it’s not. It’s a long, sweeping line up the side, which keeps the angle of attack reasonable.
Badger Pass! Looking down the other side. The massive mountain at the end is Pulsatilla Mountain, and it would escort us all the way to Luellen Lake.

Distance to Badger Pass (including detour) was 8 km from Block Lakes campground. Just shy of 750 m elevation gain. Time to Badger Pass was 3 hours and 40 minutes.

Badger Pass to Luellen Lake Campground (Jo19)

Erin and I hiked down to the meadow, and parked it next to two giant boulders that were brought down from the mountains above. We unpacked and spread out our tents, flies, and ground sheets to dry out our gear. While the rest of the day was downhill, we still had another 11 km to go and every gram counts. By this time, the packs have been cutting into our hips for days, and our shoulders are sore.

Drying out the tents to lighten our load. We took a good 30-40 minute lunch lounge here. It was a smoking hot day, and I was happy to take advantage of the light breeze. The mosquitos were horrendous, but a few squirts of the good stuff kept them at bay.

We repacked our bags, and then continued down the pass towards Johnson Creek. We made sure to get our fill of the views before we hit the forest.

We were told to watch out for the rams up here, which can get quite territorial. None today. After all our wildlife viewing yesterday, it seems we used up our trip quota. Oh well.
Soon we would be hiking in the trees. The trail makes a steep descent down to the left, and then heads towards the creek shown in the far left of the photo.
Wonderful little falls on the creek. Great place to get water or just splash around.
No official bridges. We had a few crossings on the way to Luellen Lake, but managed to find good crossings each time.
It was just as we entered the forest that I scared the living bejeezus out of some other hikers. Erin and I hadn’t seen anyone since the day before yesterday. I was just tromping through the forest, lost in my own world, when I saw something come around the corner. I’m very high strung, and I let out a scream that would make Jamie Lee Curtis proud. It pretty much echoed off the surrounding mountains. The first guy was okay, but the woman behind him turned around and tried to flee. Thankfully she was caught by the third guy in the group. She was French, and I’m pretty sure she had some choice words for me. Whoever you are – I am so SORRY!

At the 13 km mark, we hit the turn-off for Badger Pass Junction Campground (Jo29). On the sign, it’s just noted as Jo29, so we didn’t realize this was the location of the campground. We turned south at this point to head towards Luellen Lake.

The first direction marker is Jo29 for Badger Pass Junction Campground. This sign is in relation to your position. We turned south to Luellen Lake and Jo19 campground.

It was another 6 km to Luellen Lake, and I was hot, tired and cranky. My Osprey Ariel 65 litre backpack has a ridiculous chest strap that’s prone to breaking. I have already replaced it once, and it broke again on this trip. It kept popping off, and poor Erin had to fit it back on. I had just completed a 7 day mountaineering trip, and my hands were still torn apart from that trip so I couldn’t do it. Very frustrating for both of us.

After a day in the hot sun, we found a nice spot along Johnson Creek to refill our water bottles. We still had some water, but replacing it with fresh ice cold stream water? Ahhh. That hit the spot.

We had some creek crossings. Prior to this, there was a washed out bit of trail, and we could not find an easy way across. We ended up taking off our boots and walking across. As we got back to areas with more foot traffic, the bridges got better.
During this long slog, I measured distances by the mountain. Luellen Lake is nestled at the end of the Pulsatilla Mountain, so we had to hike the length of this beast, and then turn west to gain the lake. Felt like to took forever.
We probably only had just over 1 km to go, but getting fresh water was just what we needed to perk up and keep going. We crossed this bridge, and hiked up to Luellen Lake.
Another random sign. We are now in a different Park Warden’s territory 🙂 We’d see similar signs tomorrow on our way back home.

Jo19 Luellen Lake Campground

We wandered into camp, and were surprised with the amount of people! The place was packed. Turns out, there is another campground about 1 km away, but people spend the day at the lake, eat their meals here, and then go back to their campground to sleep.

Like all the other campgrounds on this loop, it had five tent spots. We felt very lucky to have our spots, as we knew this was a very popular location. The lake is gorgeous, perfectly framed by Helena Ridge above.

We made dinner, and then hit the sack after a long but amazing day in the mountains.

Luellen Lake with Helena Ridge above. Most people will recognize Helena from the other side, as part of the box canyon around Rockbound Lake. Still can’t place it? It’s the mountain behind Castle Mountain. Hard to believe we are one mountain range away from Highway #1.

I hope you enjoyed this epic journey from Block Lakes to Luellen Lake. Badger Pass is definitely a worthwhile trip. I thoroughly enjoyed all 8.5 hours and 19 km of this day. What a trek!

Click HERE for Day Six as we head back to the trail head, making a detour through the popular Johnson’s Canyon.

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Posted in Adventures, Backpacking
13 comments on “Mystic Pass to Badger Pass Circuit – Day 5 of 6
  1. weedjee says:

    Excellent a great journey in order to enjoy about mother nature. A thing is sure you need a great rest time.

    • alisendopf says:

      Thanks for coming along for the ride. I rested when I got home, for sure. During these treks, it’s amazing what the body can do. Just get up and do it all over again!

      • weedjee says:

        We body is a unknown machine when We’re in extreme moments, a thing is sure you were the queen in the trek!. Enjoy and all the best

  2. Again a great post Alisen!

    Luellen Lake with Helena Ridge above looks amazing and should you go to scramble/climb that ridge, I will be looking forward to read another post from your blog!

    • alisendopf says:

      Yes, absolutely! The route is actually up the other side, and I was there about 7 years ago??? There was way too much snow, and I missed the summit by a few hundred meters. Disappointing for sure, but I’ll be back one day.

  3. At least the rain came overnight and not when you were hiking, especially given the long day you had on the trail. I love how lush everything looks after a rainfall though. Plus the forest just smells so fresh. The views of the mountains continue to impress. What a beautiful spot to camp for the night. Luellen Lake looks stunning.

    • alisendopf says:

      Yes, upon retrospect, the rain was timed perfectly. Considering we were out for a week – things could have been way worse. Sometimes you just get lucky. Fingers crossed for future luck to prevail 🙂

  4. Diana says:

    Wow, what a beautiful section of trail! I love Badger Pass! I’m impressed that you persevered through the rushing water and exhaustion and everything else (packing up wet gear is the worst) and made it through this long day.

    • alisendopf says:

      Thanks Diana – it was a long day, and I was getting tired, but the scenery kept me going. Once I got to the top of the Pass and looked around. Yeah… big whoops of joy and a massive jolt of energy. I’m easy to please in the mountains 🙂

  5. Widdershins says:

    Another splendiferous day. 😀

  6. weedjee says:

    Our body… sorry from my fatty fingers

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